I retired in April 2013 after 25 years as a librarian at the British Library specialising in inventions. This included running numerous workshops; writing books on inventions and a work blog; carrying out searches for clients; and one-to-one meetings with inventors. [more]


25 February 2014

Free patent competitor intelligence

Free information on what your competitors are doing is always welcome. This post is about a few patent websites that I am aware of -- I'm not pretending it's comprehensive. I'd be pleased to hear of other (free) tools and methods.

I have just came across a new one for me, the Latest.Patents.com website, which links to weekly listings of newly published US patent applications or of grants by many technology companies, with that link being to documents on the US Patent and Trademark Office website. Other companies can be find on the side. On the morning of the 5 February, in the UK, I found grants from the 4th already listed. They link to copies on the USPTO official website. 

This effort, by Hunter Strategies LLC, while very commendable, is only useful if you are content to look through the titles given in those lists. It relies on useful titles (which is likely in those software and electronic areas). I would be a little wary of the lists of published applications -- companies are permitted to omit their company name in US published applications, and will on occasion do so.

If you want a simple analysis of the companies in a particular technology area, the Patentscope database by WIPO is useful. The PCT "World" patent applications can be searched by for example the International Patent Classification (IPC) classes, or by keywords, to give a list of results. By clicking on "Analysis" at the top of the list, the top ten companies and the top ten inventors, and the number of hits, are listed. It's a good way to identify their leading inventors. You could for example combine a search for a company with a keyword or a broad class to detect the inventors. You could also do it the other way round -- ask for a company, see the broad classes.

Identifying those broad IPC classes is, for me, best done by using the Espacenet database's Cooperative Patent Classification (CPC) schedules. The CPC is a more precise version of the IPC. I would hesitate to use a precise class for a subject (unless very straightforward) as it's easy to miss a patent document. I've noticed how often, especially in software, the classes vary for the same topic. Entering keywords enables identifying broad classes, such as A41, for wearing apparel, a class which is common to both IPC and CPC.

Espacenet enables these classes to be transferred to a search mask to search a vast collection of patent documents. For instance, I can click the box next to A41, and then (on the left) on "Copy to search form". This means that you can add further parameters.

For example, I might be interested in wearing apparel activity between 2005 and 2013. By inserting 2005:2013 in the "publication date" field the results are limited to those dates. Patents from numerous countries then appear -- over 30,000. In fact you'll only get the most recent 500.

You can then limit further by asking to "refine" and inserting for example

USB [US granted patents] in the "publication number" field [US gives you applications and designs as well, USA gives you published applications only]


scarf or scarves

in the "title" field. This reduces the number to 47.

At this point, the only way to analyse the results, other than by scanning the data, is to sort them by applicant name. This is very crude, and does not work for more than a small number (you're still limited to the 500, by the way) and it would be helpful if an analysis tool was available, so that the results could be interpreted as tables or piegraphs showing the leading applicants or classes. In this case, all were by private applicants -- useful to know, perhaps.

Maybe someone will develop / has developed a tool that can provide such an analysis ?

For a more robust effort, of course, you need to be prepared to pay the experts, who can use priced databases. 

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